My guide to managing maternity leave effectively

May 23, 2012 | Good Management

Happy mother with newborn babyA well planned for and managed period of maternity leave can make all the difference to retaining employees you have invested time and money in… and getting it right will do your reputation and the team’s morale the world of good too. Follow these easy steps to managing maternity leave to make it a positive experience for everyone.

Before Leave

Book in a couple of hours to give you both time to do the following tasks:

  • Agree how outstanding work will be handed over
  • Complete the employee’s appraisal
  • Complete any outstanding maternity paperwork
  • Agree how and when you will keep in touch during maternity leave – including informing the employee of any internal vacancies.
  • Agree who the employee should contact if her agreed contact becomes unavailable (eg if s/he leaves or is off sick)
  • Discuss the process for returning to work. This is a good opportunity to ask if the employee is planning to request a change to hours or working arrangements which can help you plan and prepare for the future – but remember these plans are not set in stone and she may change her mind at a later point, nor do you have to agree anything straight away.
  • If you both agree Keeping In Touch (KIT) days will be beneficial you could book in some provisional dates. Do explain how KIT days will be paid to avoid confusion later.
  • Thank the employee for her contribution to organisation and wish her well.

Also remember to check payroll have been notified and that the employee has been sent conformation of her maternity leave and pay dates. Once the employee has left for maternity leave all security and IT access should be disabled unless otherwise agreed with the employee for keeping in touch purposes.

During Leave

  • Ensure all agreed contact happens and that any significant changes are communicated effectively.
  • If the employee’s agreed contact leaves or is away inform her who the new contact is and how to reach them.
  • Be flexible. The employee may change her mind about KIT days or decide she would prefer to receive essential communications in writing only.
  • Make sure any KIT days are constructive and planned. It is very demoralising to come back to work after a period away having taken the trouble to arrange childcare, possibly be leaving the baby for the first time too, and arrive at work to find nothing has been planned and nobody is expecting you.
  • The employee may make a request for flexible working. If you have a specific policy on flexible working, make sure it is followed correctly and a copy given to the employee if she does not have access to online policies during leave. If you don’t have a policy, make sure you seek advice as to how a flexible working request should be handled.

Prior to return

In the couple of weeks before the employee is due to return make sure the following has been completed:

  • All paperwork has been processed including any requests for flexible working. 
  • Payroll have been notified of the employee’s return 
  • Security access to buildings and IT systems has been requested and will be approved in time for the first day back.  
  • The employee knows where, when and who to report to on the first day back. 
  • Colleagues, managers and direct reports know when the employee will be back and arrangements for handovers, settling in and any changes to roles or hours are agreed and explained to the relevant people. 
  • A breastfeeding risk assessment is completed and available for the employee to review if necessary.

First day back

This can be a very unsettling time, particularly if the employee has been away for some time or if a colleague has been covering her role.  A really simple thing that makes a big difference is to book a meeting in for the first couple of hours to do the following:

  • Welcome the employee back
  • Communicate key information including staff changes
  • Introduce the employee to any new colleagues
  • Allow the employee to raise any concerns and agree solutions where possible
  • Agree what training and support will be provided to effectively facilitate her return, including any mandatory training required for the role
  • Ensure the employee has access to the policies regarding time off for dependents and parental leave.
  • Arrange a review meeting for a few weeks’ time to allow either of you to raise any unforeseen issues and take action to ensure both of you are happy and the employee is settling in well and performing.

Top tip: empathy, understanding, open communication, anticipating problems and taking steps to address them promptly make a huge difference but cost little in either time or effort.
If you would like advice on managing maternity leave in your business, contact me on 0800 180 4998 or email [email protected].